The Serious Need for Silliness: Bringing More Humor, Play, and Joy to Work

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In positive psychology, humor is considered a character strength and a pathway to wellbeing. It involves the cognitive and emotional ability to perceive and appreciate incongruities and absurdities in life. Humor enables people to view challenges from a different perspective, enhancing creativity and resilience. It fosters social connections, allowing individuals to communicate ideas in a lighthearted way that can dissolve tensions and build relationships.

Potential activities:

  • Sharing appropriate jokes or funny stories
  • Sharing funny comic strips or memes (in moderation)
  • Encouraging appropriate jokes at meetings
  • Having a bulletin board for funny photos, cartoons, captions
  • Starting meetings with a humorous anecdote or video clip
  • Laughing and smiling together frequently
  • Organizing regular “laughter yoga” sessions
  • Establishing a “funny quote of the day” board
  • Hosting themed dress-up days or humorous debates
  • Hosting a friendly stand-up comedy session

By the way, we’ve had some awesome podcast guests talk about humor and share ideas. Have a listen.


Play refers to a set of intrinsically motivated activities undertaken for pure enjoyment, rather than external rewards. Play activities are characterized by spontaneity, creativity, and engagement. Play is essential for cognitive development, emotional growth, and social interaction. For adults, engaging in playful activities can rekindle curiosity and revitalize the passion for learning and exploration.

Potential activities:

  • Team-building games
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Creative contests
  • Providing toys, especially ones that can be used with others
  • Encouraging movement and stretch breaks
  • Hosting innovation challenges or design sprints
  • Mystery puzzles
  • Role playing scenarios (can be related to work or completely fictional and fun)
  • Virtual field trips, scavenger hunts, escape rooms, etc
  • Set up a designated play area with board games or video games
  • Encourage employees to teach a hobby or skill to others
  • Come up with “Playful Rituals”

By the way, we have a post on Playful Rituals, and a list of ideas that we have collected along the way. Have a great idea? Send it to us! …Or use the “Leave Voicemail” feature you see on screen! (Note if you leave us a voicemail, I will assume it is OK to use your recording… Lmk if it’s not OK.)


In positive psychology, joy is associated with experiences that align with one’s values, goals, and true self. It is a complex positive emotion encompassing contentment, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Joy acts as a powerful motivator, enhancing motivation, productivity, and overall wellbeing. It is a vital element in building resilience.

Potential activities:

  • Encouraging team members to share “joyful moments” at regular meetings
  • Sharing personal news (allow time for team members to share personal good news or milestones)
  • Sharing “My Most Joyous” stories
  • Celebrating team successes
  • Acknowledging individual achievements
  • Creating a supportive, positive work environment
  • Recognizing service milestones and work anniversaries
  • Celebrating personal events like birthdays, weddings, babies
  • Giving praise and shoutouts for good work; Creating a collaborative “wall of fame” highlighting significant accomplishments
  • Organizing themed potlucks, talent shows, trivia contests
  • Decorating workspaces in a themed way, just because!
  • Surprising employees with treats or small gifts

What the Studies Say


  • Health in General: Humor has been found to boost the immune system, decrease stress hormones, and increase pain tolerance. Laughter therapy has been used to aid in recovery in various clinical settings.
  • Health at Work: Humor can create a positive work environment, reducing burnout and enhancing job satisfaction. A study by Cooper et al. (2018) showed that humor is associated with higher work engagement and lower burnout.
  • Performance: Humor can foster creativity and problem-solving abilities. A study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology found that humor, when used appropriately, was positively correlated with work performance, job satisfaction, workgroup cohesion, and organizational culture.


  • Health in General: Play promotes cognitive, physical, and emotional well-being. It can reduce stress and promote relaxation.
  • Health at Work: Play at work can lead to increased job satisfaction, improved teamwork, and creativity. A study by West et al. (2009) suggested that playful work design enhances work engagement and well-being.
  • Performance: Playful activities can foster creativity and innovation, leading to improved problem-solving and performance. Research in organizational psychology has highlighted the role of play in fostering a creative and collaborative work environment.


  • Health in General: Experiencing joy has been linked with positive health outcomes such as reduced risk of heart disease and longer life expectancy. A connection between joy and overall well-being has been identified in various psychological studies.
  • Health at Work: Joy in the workplace can lead to a more positive organizational climate, higher employee morale, and decreased turnover. A positive emotional climate has been linked with increased job satisfaction.
  • Performance: Joyful employees tend to be more engaged, motivated, and productive. A study by Lyubomirsky et al. (2005) showed that positive emotions like joy can lead to success across various life domains, including work performance.

Your Feather-O-Meter on Play, Joy, and Humor… What’s Likely Going On Under the Hood

1. Humor:

  • Social Connection: Laughter and humor are often shared social experiences that can help to foster a sense of connection with others. According to the Polyvagal Theory, social engagement stimulates the vagal system, which can calm the body and promote feelings of safety.
  • Stress Reduction: Laughter activates the vagus nerve, which can reduce stress and promote relaxation. This calming effect on the nervous system aligns with the principles of the Polyvagal Theory related to the body’s ability to self-regulate.

2. Play:

  • Emotional Regulation: Play often involves positive social interactions and enjoyable activities that can engage the ventral vagal complex (part of the vagus nerve that is associated with social engagement and calm states). This engagement helps in emotional regulation and fosters feelings of safety.
  • Creativity and Flexibility: Play can promote cognitive flexibility and creativity, possibly connected to the balanced activation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

3. Joy:

  • Well-Being: The experience of joy and other positive emotions can stimulate the vagus nerve, promoting a sense of well-being and calm. In the Polyvagal framework, joy might be seen as an emotion that supports the social engagement system, encouraging connection, trust, and cooperation.
  • Resilience: Positive emotions like joy can foster resilience and the ability to cope with stress, in alignment with the regulatory functions of the vagus nerve as described in Polyvagal Theory.

Imagination and The Mystical

Imagination plays a crucial role in various spiritual, psychological, and scientific domains, serving as a pathway to access higher states of awareness and understanding.

In the realm of spiritual traditions, imagination is often central to practice and belief. The Sufi tradition describes an “imaginal world” that connects the physical and spiritual planes, accessible through imagination (Chittick, 1994). In Tibetan Buddhism, practitioners visualize deities and realms as a meditation technique to develop deeper insights (Wangyal Rinpoche, 1986).

Shamanism also emphasizes the role of imagination in rituals and healing practices. Shamanic journeying, connecting with spirit guides, and imaginative visualization in healing rituals are common practices (Eliade, 2004; Harner, 1990). Tom Campbell views imagination as a tool for exploring different realities, offering exercises and techniques for out-of-body experiences (Campbell, 2007).

Psychologist Carl Jung believed that imagination serves as a bridge to the collective unconscious, allowing access to archetypes and symbolic understanding, and facilitating spiritual development (Jung, 1968). This idea resonates with the work of consciousness researcher Dr. Michael Persinger, who has shown that stimulating specific brain regions can induce mystical experiences (Persinger, 1995).

Contemporary workplace practices also emphasize the interconnectedness of humor, play, and joy to foster creativity, teamwork, and a positive environment. Activities range from sharing jokes and hosting comedy sessions to recognizing achievements and celebrating personal events.

In conclusion, imagination is a multifaceted concept that transcends cultural, spiritual, and scientific boundaries. Whether in the context of Sufism, Buddhism, shamanism, Jungian psychology, modern physics, or workplace wellness, imagination serves as a powerful tool for exploring inner and outer realities, fostering creativity, and enhancing our understanding of the mind and consciousness.


  • Chittick, William C. “The World of Imagination.” The Vision of Islam, Paragon House, 1994.
  • Wangyal Rinpoche, Tenzin. “Buddhism and Shamanism in Tibet.” Shaman’s Drum, vol. 19, 1986, pp. 10–13.
  • Jung, C.G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. 2nd ed. Princeton University Press, 1968.
  • Persinger, Michael A. “The Paranormal.” In Neuropsychology of Emotion, Guilford Press, 1995.
  • Campbell, Thomas. “My Big TOE – The Complete Trilogy.” Lightning Strike Books, 2007.
  • Harner, Michael. “The Way of the Shaman.” HarperOne, 1990.
  • Eliade, Mircea. “Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy.” Princeton University Press, 2004.